TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said Friday that he believes Secretary of State Kris Kobach has told counties as part of his job as the state’s top elections official not to accept some legitimate ballots in their hotly contested Republican primary race.
Colyer, who already has accused Kobach of giving county election officials guidance “not consistent with Kansas law,” said Friday on Fox News that he is worried that some mail-in ballots in Tuesday’s governor’s race are not being counted as required. He said he is “not entirely” comfortable with the counting of remaining votes.
Kobach spokeswoman Danedri Herbert said Friday that Kobach would respond later in the day to Colyer’s demands, including a letter Colyer sent telling Kobach to stop advising county election officials and allow the state’s attorney general to take over that role.
Kobach pledged Thursday night on CNN that he would stay out of further vote counting, but it wasn’t clear how far that promise went. Colyer wants assurances that Kobach will not advise county officials as they count votes, not just that he won’t be involved in counting them.
“When a judge recuses himself, he doesn’t just recuse himself from the counting of the jurors’ votes, he recuses himself from the instructions,” Colyler said Friday. “I want to make sure that we have every ballot counted.”
The secretary of state’s role in the actual counting of ballots is limited: His office provides guidance, compiles statewide vote tallies and provides general supervision. Kobach on Thursday night said staying out of further vote counting would be “symbolic” and even “pointless” but pledged to do it anyway.
Kobach led by 121 votes out of more than 311,000 cast after discrepancies were found Thursday between two counties’ totals and those reported on the secretary of state’s website. More changes and a new statewide tally in the race were expected Friday, with late-arriving mail-in ballots counted. Counties have until Aug. 20 to finish.
States vary considerably in who has authority over elections. In most, either an elected secretary of state is the chief election official or a lieutenant governor has those duties, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Georgia, Secretary of State Kemp, now the GOP nominee for governor, has faced calls by state Democrats to step down from his position, which oversees elections as well as professional licensing and business registrations.
Common Cause Georgia, the state chapter of a national ethics watchdog group, has also joined the call, noting that Republican Karen Handel, the last secretary of state to run for governor, stepped down as soon as she qualified as a candidate. Common Cause advocates that secretaries of state be a nonpartisan position.
And in Kentucky in 2014, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, stayed in office while she ran for U.S. Senate, challenging longtime Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. Although she did not face calls to step down, McConnell used the fact that she was drawing a state paycheck as a line of attack.
Kobach is a conservative lightning rod who alienates even some fellow Republicans, but he is perhaps President Donald Trump’s closest political ally in Kansas and had Trump’s tweeted endorsement. Colyer, backed by the National Rifle Association and a strong abortion opponent, is trying to avoid becoming the first Kansas governor to lose a primary since 1956.
The counting in their race is not complete because state law says mail-in ballots that are postmarked Tuesday can be accepted by the counties as late as Friday. County officials also must review perhaps several thousand provisional ballots, given to voters at the polls when their eligibility is in question.
Colyer released his letter to Kobach hours after Colyer’s campaign announced that it had set up a “voting integrity” hotline. Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr said it received “countless” reports, adding that he personally knows of several dozen.
Marr also said that some voters at the polls “were turned away outright for unknown reasons,” without providing more details.